The Handmaid’s Tale


Margaret Atwood

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The Handmaid’s Tale: Chapter 40 Summary & Analysis

Offred lies in her hot bedroom, dressed again in her red robe. The searchlights are off, fortunately or maybe on purpose. Serena Joy comes at midnight and leads her through the house, and gives her instructions on getting to Nick’s apartment over the garage. Offred wonders what measures Serena Joy has taken against the night Guardians. Offred knocks on Nick’s door and he answers.
This scene demonstrates the differences between Serena Joy’s and the Commander’s forms of rebellion. The Commander is all about his own immediate gratification and fun, while Serena Joy has longer-term, less selfish goals.
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Nick’s room is unadorned and military-seeming. He smokes a cigarette and Offred wants to get naked to enjoy the smoke. He turns out the light and takes off Offred’s dress, and she is overwhelmed with love and passion.
Offred’s immediate arousal contrasts with her dismal time with the Commander at Jezebel’s. It all seems too good to be true.
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Offred backs up, saying “I made that up.” She gives us the real version of events. Nick opened the door and offered her a drag of his cigarette. He looks at her seriously and she feels judged, “stupid and ugly.” When she says they should hurry, he says he could just masturbate into a bottle. She tries to be sympathetic to the difficulty, and he says he gets paid. They quote old movies, and Offred starts crying. He comforts her, brings her to the bed and kisses her, telling her “no romance,” which means they shouldn’t sacrifice themselves for one another. They did the deed and Offred made shameful noises.
And it is too good to be true. As with her meetings with the Commander, Offred feels the need to tell a “better” story (at least a more conventionally romantic one) than the one that occurred. She feels some debt to her audience for listening to all her thoughts. At the same time, Offred is honest about her falsehood, ultimately preferring the embarrassing truth.
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Offred says it wasn’t like that either, that she can only hope to make a reconstruction and “the way love feels is always approximate.” During the sex, she imagined Serena Joy judging her for being easy. Afterward, she felt she’d betrayed Luke by responding so enthusiastically.
Offred’s claims about love may seem cynical, but they also indicate that love is such a special experience that she can’t even properly feel or express it without resorting to the expected clichés.
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